‘We are this close to ending polio’
Rotary International, which includes some 1.3 million members in 33,000 clubs in more than 200 countries around the world, celebrated October 24 as World Polio Day.
Since 1985, Rotary has led the battle against polio, as worldwide cases plummeted from 350,000 per year to several hundred—a 99 percent reduction.
“This is a source of pride to Rotarians everywhere,” says District Governor Jerry Wear of Rotary District 6780, which includes East Tennessee. “In our relentless fundraising efforts and our participation in inoculation days around the world, Rotarians are committed to carrying this important mission to completion.”
Today, polio is endemic in only three countries—Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan. When India came off that list in 2012, it was an important step toward eradicating a human disease from the earth for only the second time in history. (The first disease so eradicated was smallpox.)
In the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, Rotary’s chief roles are in fundraising, advocacy, awareness raising, and mobilizing volunteers, in partnership with world governments, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Since 1985, Rotarians have contributed more than $1.3 billion and countless volunteer hours to fighting polio. The Gates Foundation, which has also contributed more than $1.3 billion, has issued a challenge grant worth up to $300 million, matching every Rotary contribution 2-to-1 up to $35 million each year through 2018.
In support of Rotary’s efforts, luminaries around the globe from Desmond Tutu to Jackie Chan, Jack Nicklaus, and our own Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick have generously held up their index fingers and thumbs to tell the world that “We are this close to ending polio.”
East Tennesseans can take special pride in this ongoing effort, since crucial leadership for Rotary International’s commitment to ending polio has come from leadership of District beginning in 1977 when James Bowmar Jr. of Shelbyville, Tennessee, made a commitment to eradicate polio in the Phillipines. He served as president of Rotary International in 1979-1980, and polio was eradicated in the Phillipines.
Following that success, James Lacey of the Cookeville Rotary club was appointed to head the National PolioPlus Coordinator for Rotary International. He was elected to be president of Rotary International in 1998-1999. He serves today as the liason to the U.S. Senate and House of Representative to encourage funding for the Polio Eradication Program.
The late Bill Sergeant of the Oak Ridge Rotary Club chaired Rotary International’s PolioPlus Committee for 12 years. Along with the awards and citations he received from the likes of UNICEF and the CDC, Sergeant’s tireless efforts are memorialized by the statue in downtown Knoxville’s Krutch Park, appropriately depicting him immunizing a baby.
As vice chair of fund development for Rotary’s International PolioPlus Committee, John Germ of the Rotary Club of Chattanooga led Rotary’s US $200 Million Challenge, a fundraising effort in which Rotary raised more than $228 million toward a $355 million challenge grant from the Gates Foundation. Because Rotary reached the $200 million milestone ahead of schedule, the Gates Foundation awarded Rotary an additional $50 million.
Says Germ, who is slated to become president of Rotary International for 2016-17, “I look forward to the day when Rotary and its partners can eradicate polio forever.”